These are literary agent Janet Reid’s numbers, dating back only to the summer. She doesn’t give query totals but says she requested 124 full manuscripts. Two got an offer; she referred nine to other agents and two additional candidates for representation found it elsewhere. That’s better than 10 per cent.
Which means that once your ms has been requested in full, your odds of being offered representation are dramatically better than they were at the query level alone.
Here’s how she broke her stats down:
“Just plain not good enough: 21 (a novel needs to be in the 99th percentile-these were closer to 90%–not bad, but not good enough)
Good premise, but the rest of the novel didn’t hold up: 11
Not compelling or vivid, or focused; no plot/tension: 10
Slow start or the pace was too slow: 9
I didn’t believe the narrative voice: 5
Structural problems with the novel: 8
Interesting premise, but not a fresh or new take on familiar plots/tropes: 7
Had caricatures rather than characters: 2
Grossed me out: 2
Major plot problems: 2
Needed more polish and editorial input than I wanted to do: 2
Good books but I couldn’t figure out where to sell them: 7
Got offer elsewhere; I withdrew from scrum: 2
Great writing, just not right for me: 2
Not right for me, refer to other agents: 9
Not quite there/send me the next one: 1
Sent back for revisions with editorial suggestions and I expect to see them again in 2010: 9
Getting second read at FPLM: 1
Got offer from me: 2”
The rest fall into the miscellaneous category of problems too specific to list but they should give you an idea of how at least one agent approaches her slushpile. What it says to me is that you can have a pretty good book and still get rejected for things that can be fixed. Which means you should get good external readers who are ruthless, not cheerleaders, and willing to tell you what’s slow, what’s boring, what needs fleshing out and what needs to be cut.
Check out Penguin Canada’s book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera here! It’s pretty cool!